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US Special Envoy Urges Hollywood’s Support of Afghan Women Struggling Under Taliban Rule: ‘We Must Not Forget’

Rina Amiri says the situation remains dire a year and a half after the U.S. withdrawal from the country

As the world steps up support for Ukrainian and Iranian women, U.S. Special Envoy Rina Amiri arrived in Los Angeles with a request for members of the entertainment industry: Don’t forget about the plight of women and girls in Afghanistan.

“I have so much respect for the women of Iran and their struggle for freedom,” Amiri, who serves as the U.S. State Department’s top diplomat fighting for female rights in Afghanistan, told TheWrap. “I just want the same support and exposure for the women of Afghanistan.”

An Afghan native who fled the country as a child with her family in the 1973, Amiri — a member of the same tribe as Mohammed Zahir Shah, the last king of Afghanistan — worked in the Obama administration on Afghanistan policy. But much of that progress evaporated after the fall of Kabul in August 2021, amid the U.S.’s chaotic withdrawal from the country. Now back in power, the Taliban has methodically excluded women and girls from public life.

Women in Afghanistan are no longer allowed to work outside their homes. Girls have been banned from attending school past the sixth grade. Women are forbidden from traveling long distances without a male chaperone. Women are once again ordered to wear a burka to cover their faces and bodies. To enforce this, the Taliban decreed that men were responsible for controlling women in their home.

At Secretary of State Antony Blinker’s request, Amiri has stepped in as a special envoy to marshal support for Afghan women in all sectors. This month, Amiri has been meeting with agents as part of a United Talent Agency Foundation gathering to get their help in raising awareness. She also attended a recent reception hosted by California Film Commission Director Colleen Bell, a former U.S. Ambassador to Hungary.

At the Bell estate in Holmby Hills, Amiri met with 20 women working in Hollywood, where she characterized Afghanistan at the “worst place in the world for women.”

“We must not forget these brave and resilient women who had their rights and status come crashing down when the Taliban took over,” Amiri said. “These women are being tortured and killed when they try to protest the Taliban. Let’s help them. Let’s help them to change their story.”

She said she is seeking partnerships to mobilize support to help Afghan women gain a stronger voice in their country and around the world. The Hollywood women gave Amiri a boost of confidence about her efforts to get support for Afghan women.

Among those organizing the meetings was Bonnie Abaunza, a long-time human rights activist and impact producer for social justice and politically-oriented films.

“I have known Rina for over 15 years,” Abaunza said. “Her family fled when she was a child, so she understands the pain of losing everything and has never stopped advocating for the people of her homeland.  It was a very smart decision by the Biden Administration to bring her on as a Special Envoy and she has been relentless in her efforts to help Afghan women and girls. Her briefings last week resulted in creatives in the industry offering to support her efforts. She knows how to inspire and mobilize people to act.” 

Afghan women are resilient, Amiri said, and are willing to fight for their rights. They can succeed with international support and pressure on the Taliban to relax its suppression of these rights, she said.

Amiri said she saw a banner in Los Angeles proclaiming “I support the Women of Iran,” but has seen no banners nationwide supporting Afghan women.

Part of Amiri’s appeals to Hollywood, besides support, is to help publicize the struggles of Afghan women to the world.

“There are so many ways we can help, through the creative industry in Hollywood, with documentaries and story-telling,” Amiri said. “We need to get that message to the world. Let’s help them. Let’s help them to tell and change their story.”

Overall, the Taliban has issued more than 80 decrees in less than two years to restrict women’s rights in Afghanistan, according to the State Department.

“These are decrees that strip women of their rights to education and work and travel. A women cannot travel 45 kilometers (about 28 miles) without a male figure escorting her,” Amiri said. “These women now are prisoners in their homes. Their jobs have been taken away. Their ability to sustain their families taken away. Daughters are required to stay home, and can’t get an education.”

Karen Kraft, an army vet and executive at Veterans in Media and Entertainment, who attended the UTA briefing.

“Because I’m in this huge group, veterans in media and entertainment, so many of my members served over there,” Kraft said. “They are passionate about trying to find a way to help out. We all stood up. Rina is fighting for the voice of 20 million women and girls in Afghanistan. She’s fighting for the voice of all the women and girls around the world.”

Actress and producer Kavi Ramachandran Ladnier, known for her role as Reserve Agent Shyla Dahr in NCIS: Los Angeles, said she was heartbroken to watch Kabul fall in August 2021.

“I really feel like the West has abandoned Afghanistan,” said Ladnier, who had a private meeting with Amiri during her trip to Los Angeles. “I don’t see a lot of people who aren’t Afghan speaking out about it. I continue to use my voice because I have a daughter. I can’t even imagine what these young women and girls are experiencing. In the conversation with Rina I felt a little bit of hope about the situation for the first time.”

She said a big part of the message should be that this is not a lost cause, due to the strength of Afghan women.

“What I found from our conversations is just how empowered these women feel to take their power back, and keep prospering in life beyond extreme dictatorship. That gave me a lot of hope,” Ladnier said. “I realized I had connections and I could support this effort. I simply cannot image what it would be like for my daughter or myself to have to endure this. I’m an immigrant. I came to this country when I was eight months old from India. I want to use my voice where it’s needed.”